Full Metal Challenge Review

Full Metal Challenge

is the next step on from Robot Wars - the well establish show were small machines called Cilla Flak, Dudekiller and Spinderella take on each other in a gladiatorial contest to find the most successful robotic fighter in the UK, guided via remote control by their owners standing some safe distance away. 'tis sad to report that most of these quite ingenious little machines end up scrapped by the BBC-sanctioned bullying of Shunt, Sgt. Bash and the aggressively named Sir Killalot.

All well and good you might think but clearly not enough metal carnage - not even extreme close-ups will make you think Robot Wars is even close to being life-size - so it was really only a matter of time before someone, somewhere considered doing the whole thing with real vehicles. Sounds good? Then Full Metal Challenge may be for you.

Influenced by Junkyard Wars/Scrapheap Challenge, itself reminiscent of an episode of Northern Exposure (Burning Down The House in which Chris flings an old piano from a makeshift catapult), Full Metal Challenge is a contest in which twenty-seven teams with a budget of $3,000 each build machines with names like Octopush, Mad Monkey and Southern Crusher to compete in a series of games as below:

  • Ten Pin: Like ten pin bowling but the vehicles take the place of the ball, trying to knock down twelve-foot tall pins over two attempts
  • Pitball: Basically, it's football played out in a fiery pit with a large metal ball.
  • Hall of Mirrors: The teams must navigate their vehicle through the titular fairground attraction whilst it constantly changes.
  • Bumper Cars: This is a bit closer to pinball than normal dodgems as the teams try to hit obstacles as they are lit up pinball-style.
  • Rollercoaster: The vehicles have to be driven over a rollercoaster course against the clock
  • Wetropolis: At heart, little more than an obstacle course under two feet of water.
  • King of the Hill: There are six hills that each team has to get to the top off followed by staying at the top of the central hill.
  • Grand International: Based on the Grand National course at Aintree, the vehicles have to complete two laps of the course.
  • Sumo: Each episode ends with a sumo match between the two finalists as each vehicle tries to push or trick the other out of the arena..

Presented by Cathy Rogers and Henry Rollins, Full Metal Challenge invites competitors from across the globe to an abandoned power station in England to take these machines to their limits.

Well...uh, I'm not entirely sure what to say about Full Metal Challenge. I mean, being only a casual viewer, having not actually watched any of the original series, I fear that I'm not really the best person to comment on it but, if only speaking to those readers who are like myself and are somewhat new to this sort of thing, what basically happens is that a bunch of vehicles get put through these games and following the elimination of the less capable entrants, a winner is discovered from the entrants and, if the information on the website is correct, a series of quarter- and semi-finals culminated in a final contest to determine the overall winner. Were the viewer to watch the whole thing in one session, there's no doubt it's all reasonably entertaining, quite a blast actually if ultimately completely pointless but never let it now be said that I have never witnessed a 350bhp adapted snow plough falling sideways off a 45deg ramp.

If there is a problem with Full Metal Challenge, it's one that most of these techno-games have in common. Unlike your classic track and field events - running, jumping, football and the like - techno-games have the most confusing set of rules known to man, woman or child, so bizarre that even the most ardent fan of rugby union will have their work cut out to understand them. Full Metal Challenge, therefore, begins and ends without me even having the slightest idea of who has just won what, how and what exactly they did to get such a result. What seems to happen, therefore, is that games begin, some stuff happens, some old guy who should know better wanders in to declare a winner and by some flexible application of some rule or another, one team comes out on top. Typically, this viewer was left staring blank-faced at the screen thinking, "So...what just happened?" I sense that the makers tried to disguise this with a lot of heat, flash and noise, which works to an extent but which is ultimately quite soulless.

As for the DVD, it would appear to be a summary of the entire series, beginning from the first episode and the building of the course through to the crowning (if that's the right word) of the eventual winners. Interestingly, it finds time to include some of the problems that were only discovered as the contest started, such as the obstacles in the Bumper Cars game not being secured properly, leading to them being uprooted and trashed across the arena. The downside is that, in trying to fit many hours of footage into a single hour on the DVD, much of the flow of the competition is lost and really this is little more than a highlights show that is a little too short.

The main problem with that and, by extension, with the entire DVD is that for casual fans, there's probably enough content but they'll be unlikely to buy it whereas for those who are already fans of the series and who would be interested in purchasing this disc, there's simply not enough of the show here. To really satisfy, Full Metal Challenge would have been best presented on a two-disc set, ensuring that not only was there enough for the diehards but also that casual viewers would have had enough to prepare them for the second series that is doubtless forthcoming.

Regarding the two presenters, let's first have a word about Henry Rollins. Y'see Henry Rollins, or 'Hank' to his fans, is a song and dance man, an actor, a magazine columnist and a spoken-word performer, which has found him being described, in some of the more easily impressed newspapers and magazines, as a renaissance man. That's right, just like Leonardo da Vinci. Hank'll tell you though that despite his obvious existence in a world of sports networks, rage, weights, more rage and a neck wider than his head (is this actually a look that one strives for?), Rollins is a bit of a poet. Not like a real poet mind, whom he describes as, "cappucino drinking, beret wearing, fake ass mustache having, striped shirt wearing, Velvet Underground adoring poets. Leaking, sniveling, moist clammy handed guys who can't get any." That'll be Ted Hughes, Tom Paulin, TS Eliot and WB Yeats, then, clammy-handed Velvet Underground fans who couldn't get any. Right...

Even with his rock band - The Henry Rollins Band (no, no, no...naming a band after yourself is always the first sign of an ego run rampant) - Rollins is exactly the type of fool that teenagers think is 4 REAL and it was a shameful example of opportunism that Rollins, in competition with Layne Staley and Eddie Vedder, attempted to become king of tortured artists in the wake of the suicide of Kurt Cobain. Now, Cobain was no genius - a good seven or eight songs and a big debt to The Pixies is about all Nirvana can claim - but compared to the turgid nonsense that Rollins, Staley and Vedder were peddling, Cobain was as innovative as Pet Sounds/Smile-era Brian Wilson.

And now, with Full Metal Challenge, he is also a television presenter. He is, in keeping with his general lack of ability in other fields, awful and for all he adds to proceedings, the producers may as well have had some kid in on work experience wheel a squeaky-wheeled wooden model of Rollins onto the set and have it stand motionless in the background with a Dictaphone playing a number of favoured phrases from the Rollins vocabulary - Rage! Anger! Hate!

Of course, Rollins won't care what is said here. He has a low opinion of critics saying, "...I'm tired of critics and their opinions of me, good or bad...it gets me hostile at some guy who I could kill with my hands, who, like, gets to wield his fake verbal superiority over me." Ooooooh, scary big man!

Now, I don't like Rollins (whaddaya mean you've noticed?) but Cathy Rogers is a pretty good presenter at this sort of thing. She'd previously been involved in the much better Scrapheap Challenge, co-presented with Robert Llewellyn, a television show that seems much more focused than this but this DVD doesn't really give her much of a platform on which to demonstrate her abilities. She does, however, have an interview on the bonus features section of the disc that allows her more space in which to describe her work on the production of the series, the development of the games and the series of programmes.

Overall, Full Metal Challenge, both the series and the DVD, looks to have been rushed through development and production. The actual aim of the contest appears incomplete when compared to either Robot Wars and Scrapheap Challenge and the DVD has the feel of a sampler disc given away free on the front of a magazine. I suspect this will be for fans only.


Being a television show, this has been transferred anamorphically in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and looks pretty good throughout. Being a techno-game, it's edited with all manner of whizz-bangs but is actually rather well done. The design of the menus and inter-game cut-scenes is excellent, reminiscent of the work carried out by the outstanding Designer's Republic on Psygnosis' Wipeout games on the PSOne and that is a very high compliment.


Full Metal Challenge

is presented in 2.0 Stereo, reflecting the show's roots in television and it sounds fine, if not outstanding except for those few moments when the contestants let rip with their vehicle's diesel engines. Being honest, I've never been much of a fan of diesel lumps but at 350bhp, I might change my mind.


The disc has quite a few extras, which serves to add value to a package that would have been quite sparse otherwise:

The Teams Feature: This section allows the viewer to select each of the twenty-seven teams from the menu and to view stats (Top Trumps kind of thing) and a short video tour of their vehicle.

The Set Feature (25m47s, 1.78:1 Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): Following a brief introductory talk on his work on Full Metal Challenge, Chief Engineer Greg Bryant takes us on a tour of the set with a short chapter devoted to each course.

Interviews: These are short on-set interviews with some of the main members of the cast and crew, including:

  • Henry Rollins, Presenter (6m33s)
  • Cathy Rogers, Presenter (7m09s)
  • Julia Knowles, Director (5m51s)
  • Wes Moore, Chief Rigger (2m25s)

Of the four, Cathy Rogers is probably the most interesting given her involvement in Full Metal Challenge from the very beginning.

Interactive Team Info Links: This allows the viewer to access further information about how the vehicles featured in tech programme were built. When a new car is introduced during the main feature, pressing an on-screen icon will link to a short documentary on the team and their creation of their vehicle.

Interactive Games: This is presented with a multi-angle feature allowing a first-person view of what the drivers are experiencing (barring the feeling of sheer terror as their vehicle topples over) during a small number of the contests. This does not cover every event from the main feature.


It's fine, I suppose, for me to kill a couple of hours watching this but I suspect that real fans of the series will be very disappointed by this DVD release. Taking the main feature alone, this allows very little of the series to come through and could probably have been knocked out on a digital video editing system on an average PC by a typical user in an afternoon. Hence, it has the cheap look of being knocked out too quickly with very little thought given to what the fans of the series would actually like to have as a way to remember the original series.

It is, therefore, not far removed from the shoddy end-of-season DVD's and videos put out by football clubs and, as someone who would never actually recommend that anyone purchase such a thing, I find it similarly difficult to recommend this - wait for the second series in which one hopes that they get Robert Llewellyn back with Cathy Rogers and lighten the tone just a little by adding something to the show beyond simply crashing custom-built $3,000 machines whilst Henry Rollins grins on inanely.

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